Skip to main content

Explaining the primary care shortage and the importance of primary care

iStock 863061204

As the population ages and needs more primary care services, the shortage of primary care physicians to treat those patients continues to increase. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), “there will be a shortage of between 21,100 and 55,200 primary care physicians by 2032.” In its recent publication, Myths and Facts: The Physician Shortage, the AAMC dispels the myth that the shortage is a result of fewer medical students choosing primary care and instead focuses on the situation being caused by more older patients needing that primary care access.

AAMC’s findings are the result of a survey conducted by the Life Science division of IHS Markit and reported in The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2017-2032. The fifth annual study includes “scenarios that have been refined and updated based on input from stakeholders, and new modeling that examines the impact of emerging health care delivery trends on physician shortages.”

In addressing the results of the survey, AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, MD, explains that “The nation’s population is growing and aging, and as we continue to address population health goals like reducing obesity and tobacco use, more Americans will live longer lives. These factors and others mean we will need more doctors. Even with new ways of delivering care, America’s doctor shortage continues to remain real and significant.”

The physician shortage is not necessarily a result of fewer primary care physicians but rather is a result of more demand from patients who are growing older and who need more quality primary care services. Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, are turning 65 “by the thousands” and are becoming more vigilant about their healthcare. The eldest members of this generation are also signing up for Medicare “by the thousands.”

Quality primary care has been shown to reduce the frequency of emergency room visits and hospitalizations. As the population ages, more patients are experiencing health conditions that can be better managed by a primary care physician. Preventive care becomes particularly important for older patients as well.

AAMC suggests that “Fixing the doctor shortage will require training a few thousand more doctors a year, working on new delivery models and technologies, and receiving help from nonphysician providers.”